Breast cancer patients utilize nurse navigators to avoid feeling lost

RICHMOND, Va. -- Being told you have breast cancer can be both scary and overwhelming, but a nurse navigator can help guide patients through the system.

On any given day, you'll find Donna Wilson on the go and on the phone at VCU Massey Cancer Center.  She’s been an oncology nurse 23 years, but for the last 11 years she's been a nurse navigator who helps breast cancer patients navigate through their cancer journey.

"I'm here to make sure our patients are being treated physically for their disease, but the holistic care, the emotional, spiritual side,” Wilson said.

She helps patients understand their treatments now and what's coming next; help she offered to another Donna---a patient and two time breast cancer survivor.

“You’re terrified. For me, you just automatically this is a death sentence,” Donna Dovel said.

To help put her mind at ease, Donna remembers the first time doctors connected her to Nurse Donna.

"They said she's your person, go to person for anything big or small. She'll guide you in the right direction,” Dovel said.

In the beginning, Donna admits she called  her nurse navigator on the regular.

"She knew my number on caller ID,"  Dovel said jokingly.

Nurse Donna is doing what she does best for 80-plus patients right now at Massey.

"I want them to feel they're important, the team and the physicians know what's going on with them and they never feel lost," Wilson said.

Donna is not only speaking as a nurse, but as a widow. She lost her first husband Billy in 2003, to bile duct cancer. It’s a topic she doesn’t talk with her patients about.

"I don't tell my patients. I never say "I understand how you feel” because you never know how somebody feels,” Wilson said.

Donna Wilson does "know" what it's like to be a caregiver and how to juggle a job, bills, and children all while seeing a loved one slip away.

"Everything I do is to honor him and to support those families, so that cancer patients can live the best quality of life as they can with this diagnosis,"  Wilson said.

Donna is also the co-founder of the Virginia Cancer Patient Navigation Network.  The organization strengthens navigators across the state and helps even more patients.

Reba Hollingsworth and Stephanie Rochon

Reba Hollingsworth and Stephanie Rochon

On the 6th of the month, CBS 6 and VCU Massey Cancer Center remind women to contact their buddy to remind them to conduct a monthly breast self-exam. If it is time, you should also schedule an annual clinical breast exam and mammogram, which are key to early detection.